This week its been all about Iran.
What is difficult to judge is the degree to which the apparent escalation of rhetoric between the Trump administration and Iran is just this administration’s normal blustering or if there is serious interest in involving the country in another war.
If you have not been paying attention, there were reports that a few oil tankers were attacked in the Persian/Arabian Gulf last week as well as a drone attack on two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia launched by Somali Houthis who are at war with the Kingdom and its allies.The details of the attacks are a bit thin in the press but one analyst thought that they were small (4kg) explosives.
The U.S. seems to believe the attacks were all ordered by Iran in response to the tightening of U.S. sanctions which have to do with the end of theThe Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached between Iran and the West concerning its nuclear program in July 2015.
Donald Trump’s current National Security Advisor, John Bolton, requested the Pentagon draw up plans to invade Iran just in case and to confuse things even further President Trump has tweeted that he does not want to go to war with Iran but would send many more troops if he did.
The latest episode makes me think of Trump’s empty threats against North Korea and Venezuela as well as his statement that he would withdraw all troops from Syria. Trump frightens me because he does not seem to understand or think through the implications of his tweets and ad-hoc speeches. While it may be that making threats can eventually achieve some sort of accommodation, I am not convinced that these crisis come out of a rational process of calculation.
To quote an article from the Atlantic “The first year of the Trump administration had been lost to poor planning and lack of familiarity with government, otherwise known as rank incompetence.”
The article is an essay on the worldview of Bolton who is the only official in Trump’s White House with prior experience at that level. According to Graeme Wood, who wrote the article as well as an interesting book on the Islamic State, Bolton “has been called many things—vain, miserly, rage-prone—but never incompetent, and his arrival disrupted a delicate balance of idiocy”
As I have written in the past, I was actually glad when military men such as Generals John Kelly (Chief of Staff), James Mattis (Secretary of Defense) and H. R. McMaster (National Security) were present to control Trump’s impulses and to help him understand the international security system that the United States has built over the last 70 years.
Bolton, by his own account, sees the system as holding the United States back and is of the view that the U.S. should do whatever it sees to be in its self interest. He appears to have no morale compass and disdains principles with a complete faith in realpolitic.
As things stand now we can only hope that President Trump really does have the last word and will control Bolton’s instincts. With just over 600 days until Jan 20th 2021, I can only hope that congressional oversight, the judgement of the American military and good fortune can keep this President from doing any irreparable damage to the country and the world.